By Alistair Hann
16th August 2019
Not even Anthony Yarde will know whether he belongs at elite level until he meets Sergey ‘Krusher’ Kovalev in the ring on Saturday 24th August.
Forget the sparring, the pad work, the agonising conditioning – nothing can prepare Britain’s Anthony Yarde for what Sergey Kovalev will bring in the opening rounds of their upcoming title bout.
The WBO light-heavyweight champion, meanwhile, has walked this perilous road many times before.
Kovalev has fought for 10 years a professional and has a deep amateur pedigree, while Yarde only turned pro in 2015 after just 12 amateur fights.
Yarde will also be far from home, with the fight taking place at the prosaically named Traktor Sport Palace in Cheylabinsk, in the shadow of the Ural Mountains.
So, it’s little surprise our traders make Kovalev the pre-fight betting favourite at 4/9.
Too early for Yarde to step up to world level?
The consensus among boxing experts is that Yarde has the potential to be a future world champion, but that he’s attempting too big a jump in class, too early, against too dangerous an animal.
Their argument is supported by a glance at the fighters’ résumés. Kovalev has fought for world titles in all his last 15 fights.
At the height of his powers, he hurt, outpointed and set the great Bernard Hopkins on the path to retirement.
True, he then lost both fights against future Hall-of-Famer Andre Ward.
But most observers disagreed with the judges and awarded Kovalev the first fight on points, after he floored Ward for just the second time in the American’s unblemished career.
Ward won the rematch by stoppage. But, he did so with a succession of blatant low blows and was lucky not to be disqualified.
Since that disappointment, Kovalev has won three of his four bouts, avenging his surprise defeat to Eleidar Álvarez in impressive style back in February to take his record to 33-3-1 with 28 knock-outs.
Contrast the Russian’s pedigree, with the 18-0 record Yarde has built against journeymen and C-List fighters.
Nikola Sjekloća was probably Yarde’s toughest opponent and he came into the fight on the back of decision losses at super-middleweight to Sakio Bika, Arthur Abraham and Callum Smith.
Why Yarde has a realistic chance of ripping the WBO title belt from Kovalev
Firstly, at 36 (Yarde is 29), and having lost his aura of invincibility along with some hand-speed, Kovalev is no longer the fighter that once terrorised the light-heavyweight division.
His pressure style could also be made for Yarde, who likes to control the distance with his flashing jab, while countering with powerful right-hand pot-shots.
Should the fighters exchange at close-range, Kovalev will also discover that Yarde is a punishing body puncher – something that visibly discomforted and weakened him in his two fights with Ward.
So, it’s quite conceivable that if Yarde, who is 7/4 in the bout betting, can weather Kovalev’s early onslaught, he could wear down the older fighter and claim a famous title win on foreign soil.